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MacRae, Tolbert

Published onOct 01, 2021
MacRae, Tolbert

(November 16, 1882 - July 7, 1963)

Quick Facts

Head of music at Iowa State from 1920-1948.

Tolbert MacRae, 1954. Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Tolbert MacRae was born on November 16, 1882, to parents Catherine Murray MacRae and John MacRae on a farm in northern Missouri. MacRae's mother was from Canada and his father was from Scotland. MacRae was one of 11 children. His family moved to southern Iowa when he was eight years old and he received his elementary education in Humeston, Iowa. MacRae attended Drake University in Des Moines. He studied advanced voice with R. Watkin Mills in London. He also studied conducting at Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg, Austria.1

Before moving on to Iowa State, MacRae served on the faculty at Drake University for eleven years2 as assistant music director.3 He was head of music at Iowa State from 1920-1948.4 He fostered music appreciation by making music more meaningful to students through their participation in musical groups and ensembles, lecture courses, and opportunities to hear great musicians. 5 MacRae directed the Iowa State Singers, Men's and Women's Glee Clubs, the Festival Choir, the touring Varsity Four and Varsity Eight, and the Festival Choir's annual Christmas performance of the "Messiah".6

MacRae was a member of Pi Kappa Lambda, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Cardinal Key, Theta Chi and Rotary International, where he served as president of the Ames Club. MacRae also served as Iowa State University 25-Year Club president in 19547 and 1955.8

MacRae received a citation from the war department for his service as an army song leader during World War I.9 He was awarded a faculty citation from Iowa State University in 1951.10 MacRae received the Drake alumni distinguished service award in 1961.11 From the Honors Convocation program:

For more than four decades of distinguished service on the faculty of Iowa State University, twenty-eight years of which were spent as head of the music department; for ten years as a teacher in the Drake College of Fine Arts; for his effective work with Iowa 4-H clubs and adult education groups; for his contributions to professional music organizations and to community activities, we present to receive the Alumni Distinguished Service Award, Tolbert MacRae, Class of 1906.12

He married Mable Downing in June 1913. The couple had two children. Their son, John Murray, graduated from Iowa State University in 1936 and taught at San Jose State College in California, and their daughter, Rebecca Josephine, was a former prominent golfer13 who won the New Mexico State Woman's Golf Champion.14 Rebecca married Martin Boswell and resided in Roswell, New Mexico.15 Tolbert MacRae died on July 7, 1963 in New Mexico.16 His wife preceded him in death in 1953.17

Selected Sources

"Past Music Head Dies on Sunday," Iowa State Daily, July 11, 1963.

"Former Iowa State Music Head Dies," Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 9, 1963.

"MacRae Devoted to Music at ISU," Iowa State Daily, July 19, 1963.

Hilton, Robert T. Profiles of Iowa State University History, Ames, IA: Information Service, Iowa State University, 1968, 83-84.

"Past Music Head Dies on Sunday," Iowa State Daily, July 11, 1963.

"MacRae, Tolbert," Department of Music Biographical Files, Special Collections and University Archives, Iowa State University.

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